One of our newest alumna (seriously, she graduated last week!), Laural Horton was part of Hackbright’s inaugural East Bay cohort. Prior to learning to code, she worked as an immigration attorney for asylum seekers and then as a special education teacher. We chatted with Laural to learn more about her purpose-driven work, being a bird-mom (yes, you read that right), and what the day-to-day looks like for a Hackbrighter.
What was your background prior to Hackbright?
I had two careers before software engineering. First, I was an immigration attorney working with asylum seekers. I worked at a non-profit in Detroit, MI helping individuals seek asylum in the US or refugee status in Canada. Although my work was really interesting, I felt limited by only addressing one aspect of an individual’s situation. After not-too-long I decided I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what, so I worked for a while in editing and research. I began volunteering in schools and decided I wanted to teach. I joined Teach for America and taught high school Special Education in Oakland, CA for five years prior to Hackbright. I was talking with a friend, who is also a software engineering manager, about how I felt really stagnant in my teaching position and really missed problem-solving and learning new skills. He suggested that I try out some online coding classes and told me about Hackbright. I tried it out, took the Prep class and decided to make the leap! I love thinking about challenges from a new perspective and having so many opportunities to learn more.
What motivated you to learn to code and change your career?
In general, I’m pretty motivated by purpose and in past career decisions I considered the goal of what I was doing more than the day-to-day of the job. While I’m happy with where that’s gotten me, I was really interested in a change that took into account the skills that make up my career. Once I realized that coding was all about creative problem solving, collaboration and communication, I became even more interested. I thought about it for a while and realized that I had a lot of perspective to bring to the field that could potentially make a really positive impact. Plus, I really liked the project-oriented aspect and the emphasis on continuous learning and growth. I did a little digging on how various organizations are motivated to include more diverse voices in the tech landscape and got hooked on the intersection of social change and tech. Hackbright’s change the ratio emphasis offered the perfect platform for me to learn more.
A day in the life
What does your day-to-day look like as a student?
In the first six weeks, the course was pretty structured and my average day looked like this:
- 6:45am | Wake up, feed the birds (we have two chickens and a duck) (editor’s note: AWESOME!), then head to the pool to swim laps (this relaxes me)
- 9am | Head to Hackbright
- 10 – 11:30ish | Lecture followed by lab until 1pm (1-2pm, lunch break)
- 2-3:30pm | Lecture followed by another lab until 6pm, then head home
- 7pm | Walk the dogs (editor’s note: more pets!) and bed-time for the birds
- 8pm | Dinner and some homework
- 10pm | Either fall asleep or watch something on Netflix to relax, then fall asleep
During weeks 6-10 (project time), the days were a little more free-form and we had a lot of individual work time:
- 7:30am | Wake up, get the birds out of bed, then walk the dogs (I was too tired for swimming – though it would have been good for me).
- 9am | Head to class.
- 10am-11:30ish | Lecture. I really liked these lectures, but it was hard to fully internalize the info since I was so absorbed in my project.
- 11:30 – 6pm | Work on projects! This seems like a ton of time – but it flew by because I was really working hard to piece together what to do when. There was a break in there somewhere for lunch and more flexible timing during these weeks.
- 7pm | Walk the dogs again, bedtime for birds, dinner, more project work, TV/reading.
- 11pm-ish | Bed.
The last two weeks (11-12) were a new schedule each day. We did some company visits to tour, learn more, and do whiteboarding practice. Some days started at noon and ended at 8pm. Other days had a normal 10am-6pm schedule. The networking/job hunt focus is a change of pace, and we were all still trying to make time for whiteboarding practice and review as well.
How has your life changed since Hackbright?
I’m sure everyone says this – but the course really flew by. During classes, I felt busy but really wanted to take the time to make sure I was understanding everything while I still had the opportunity to ask questions. In my last week, I really looked forward to taking some time to absorb and organize what I’ve learned. It seems crazy to me – but I feel pretty prepared for a lot of jobs and opportunities I’ve been researching. I also feel like I have a really solid basis from which to learn more – both personally and professionally. I can attack problems from various perspectives and have a good foundation to troubleshoot when I make mistakes. I have a lot to learn, but am getting comfortable thinking that I will always have a lot to learn in this field. I feel more confident knowing that I have a good foundation from which to build.
Now that you’re in your last week, what’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started at Hackbright?
I took the prep class at Hackbright, but that was really my first introduction to coding. In retrospect, I would have loved to have had a more broad understanding of coding and computer science principles before the course began. I learned a ton – and am just now beginning to process all of that information. With a deeper understanding from the onset, I would have had the chance to internalize information more easily and generate more questions as topics were reviewed.
What are you hoping to do after graduation?
I have a few ideas for projects I’d like to start on my own. I also want to help a couple friends who need some tech assistance with their own ventures. In the short-term, I’m looking for a software engineering position that supports me to learn more and really solidify my skills. My long term goal is to work with an organization that aligns with my values surrounding social justice and human rights. Most immediately, I have a road trip planned so I can see some family back in Michigan and review and reflect on what I’ve learned.
Interested in learning more? Check out our upcoming Part-Time Prep Course and our 12-week full-time or 24-week part-time Software Engineering Programs. Hackbright Academy offers a deferred tuition program to select, eligible students.
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